6 December 2009 ~ The number of different centre-back pairings Everton have used this season will soon be in double figures. The latest variation will be employed for today's match against Spurs with Lucas Neill likely to be partnered by full-back Tony Hibbert, a strapping 5ft 7ins. Quite a contrast to last year when they used only three players in central defence – Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott and Joseph Yobo – for almost the entire season. It's not the only reason that they have kept only one clean sheet in the League this season but it must be a significant factor.
It's generally agreed that Everton have been beset by bad luck in 2009-10 but some supporters would argue that bad planning is as much to blame. At the end of last season, the club had three first teamers missing through injury. One, Yakubu, has since returned but is clearly not yet fully fit after being out for eight months; the other two, Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta, are still unavailable after undergoing secondary operations on knee injuries. Having been outbid by Spurs for Sheffield United right-back Kyle Naughton, David Moyes didn't add any new players to his squad until the end of August when there was a rush to spend some of the money raised by the sale of Lescott to Man City, a move that the Everton manager loudly resisted. Four players were eventually signed, one of whom, centre-back Sylvain Distin is the latest to be injured.
The club had the smallest squad in the Premier League last season, which began with their having six teenagers on the bench for the opening day fixture with Portsmouth. They are almost back to that position now due to another run of injuries in 2009-10 – right-back Seamus Coleman hadn't even been a non-playing substitute before making his debut, as a left-back, in a 5-0 Europa League defeat at Benfica last month.
David Moyes talked of being driven "demented" by the search for signings in the summer but he also said that he didn't want to sign "rubbish" to make the numbers up. While the board couldn't fund significant additions to the first team, the failure to add a few more squad players has proved costly. Participation in the Europa League has involved eight extra midweek fixtures between August and December – it was always likely that there would be injuries in those games. Now players who have had to play every week as the first team squad has shrunk are also getting injured and the almost untried teenagers are getting closer to being named in the starting line-up. Still, the effect that additional European fixtures may have on players' availability is unlikely to be a concern for anyone at Everton next season. David Senior